Excerpt About Ego Structures

Integration of Self-representations Into Overall Structures
The sense of a separate self develops gradually in early childhood, within the interaction with the environment, particularly with the mother. The self develops through the creation of internalized images of oneself and the other. These images, or more accurately, representations, become integrated into overall structures that finally give the individual the sense of being a person with a sense of identity and unique characteristics. Mahler calls this process of the development of ego structures the separation-individuation process, and assigned to it several stages, according to her experimental-observational studies of children with their mothers. The first stage is the autistic, in the first few weeks of life, in which the neonate does not yet have any relationship with a significant other. The second is that of symbiosis, characterized by the neonate experiencing itself within a common boundary with the mother, where it is not separate from her but in a dual unity with her. The next phase is that of differentiation, starting around seven months of age, where the baby starts experiencing itself as separate from the mother. This phase is the time when the self starts establishing representations of a separate self and other. The next is the practicing period, from 12 to 18 months when the child begins discovering and exercising its unique capacities and functions. The next is that of rapprochement, between 18 and 36 months, where the toddler vacillates between moving towards autonomy and returning to closeness to mother and dependence on her. In the last phase, which begins at three years, but lasts throughout the life cycle, the sense of autonomous individuality develops with its twin achievement of object constancy. The latter is a capacity to experience another human being, originally the mother as an autonomous individual in his or her own right, with unique qualities and functions.

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